Can I get free therapy or counselling?

You can get free psychological therapies on the NHS, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), counselling and therapy.

You do not need a referral from your GP – you can refer yourself directly to a psychological therapies service.

Find a psychological therapies service in your area.

If you prefer, you can see your GP and they will refer you.

Psychological therapies on the NHS

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) advises the NHS on which therapies are most suitable for mental health problems like anxiety.

Which therapy you are referred for depends on what emotional or mental health problem you have and how severe it is.

NHS therapies for depression

For mild to moderate depression, NICE recommends you are initially referred for guided self-help, or computerised cognitive behavioural therapy (CCBT).

Guided self-help is where you work your way through a self-help course with support from a healthcare professional.

With CCBT, you work through a computer program with the support of a healthcare professional. The program helps you to understand your depression and find ways to overcome it.

You may also be referred to a group exercise class.

If none of the above helps, your GP can talk to you about the possibility of trying an anti-depressant medicine or a psychological therapy, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). CBT helps you to identify and stop negative thinking.

If you have moderate to severe depression, NICE recommends you are offered both an antidepressant and a psychological treatment, such as CBT or interpersonal therapy.

Interpersonal therapy helps you identify and address problems in your relationships with family, partners and friends.

NHS therapies for anxiety

If you are diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), you may be referred for a guided self-help course or group support meetings on the NHS.

GAD is when you cannot control your anxiety, and worry about lots of different things a lot of the time.

If self-help or group meetings do not help your anxiety, a course of CBT may be helpful. This should be available on the NHS.

Your GP can discuss anti-anxiety medication with you.

NICE also recommends psychological therapies for other mental health problems, including panic disorder, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder.

Other places that offer therapy

Some charities offer cheap or free talking therapies or group support. These include:

  • Cruse for bereavement care
  • Mind for mental health problems
  • Relate for relationship counselling

Some employers provide counselling for their employees, and lots of colleges and universities offer free therapy to students who need it.

You'll also find mental health apps and tools in the NHS apps library.

Paying for private therapy

If you can afford it, you can choose to pay for your therapy privately.

The cost of talking therapy varies, and a 1-hour session can cost between £50 and £100.

Your GP may be able to suggest a local private therapist, or you can find a therapist online. It's essential to check that the therapist is listed on one of the registers of approved practitioners.

The following organisations have approved therapists:

It's a good idea to talk to several therapists before you decide which one is right for you.

Media last reviewed: 26 May 2015

Media review due: 26 Feb 2018

Page last reviewed: 03/01/2016
Next review due: 03/01/2019